Yesterday I put out a call for help, both here and on Facebook. I needed help with the concluding paragraphs of the next edition of my American history textbook, HIST, and I had until noon after election day to summarize the results. Thanks for your help with my first draft. I unfortunately couldn’t fit in all the great recommendations, but here’s what I ended up with:
The campaign was filled with frustration and anger, reflecting the sullied economy and the continued political divides within the nation. The country seemed to be having an open conversation about whether Obama’s presidency was a failed attempt to rescue the economy from the 2008 crash or whether Obama had done the best he could, given the state of the economy when he first took office. Many were equally frustrated that the “hope” and “change” promised by Obama in 2008 was still unfulfilled four years later. Still others were uncomfortable with the prospect of having an African American lead the nation, even fifty years after the civil rights movement and 150 after the end of slavery. Romney, meanwhile, was dismissed as a greedy oligarch akin to the robber barons of the early Industrial Age, concerned only with preserving his vast wealth, although his supporters argued that a successful businessman would do a better job of bringing the country back to a position of strength.
On election night, Obama’s record of ending the war in Iraq and winding it down in Afghanistan, of locating and killing Osama bin Laden, of preserving the battered American car industry, and, perhaps most importantly, of overseeing several consecutive months of slow economic growth, led him to a relatively easy re-election, winning nearly all the battleground states in nearly every region of the nation.
Perhaps most tellingly, however, was how the changes of the previous 50 years had transformed the electorate, especially the transformations brought about by the 1965 Immigration Act and the increasing recognition of the diversity of the United States. For instance, overwhelming numbers of ethnic and racial minorities voted for Obama (making up 45 percent of his total popular vote—a record), while white Americans supported Romney, 59 percent to 39 percent. Meanwhile, more than 55 percent of women voted for Obama, while only 47 percent of men did.
Reflecting similar trends, in Wisconsin, Tammy Baldwin became the first openly gay person elected to the U.S. Senate. Ballot initiatives allowing same-sex marriage passed in Maine, Maryland, and Washington, while Minnesota voters rejected a constitutional ban on the practice, opening up the possibility that same-sex marriage might be legalized there too. Twenty women were elected to the Senate, a record, while a state like New Hampshire sent all women to Congress, elected a female governor, and chose a female-controlled state legislature. The changing demographic trends led many Republican strategists to recognize that, from 2012 on, any political party could not appeal only to white male Christian heterosexuals and expect to win a national election. As one pundit put it, “the era of our government being chosen by old white guys is, officially, over.”
But the nation remains politically divided. Obama won only 50 percent of the popular vote to Romney’s 48 percent, and Republicans maintained control of the House, while Democrats kept the Senate. But as Obama said in his victory speech, “These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty. We can never forget that as we speak, people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.”
And then, harkening back to his landmark keynote address before the 2004 Democratic Convention that first brought him to national political attention, he rejected the notion that the nation was as divided as it seems. He highlighted the complicated and conflicted diversity of America’s past and present when he declared, “It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight. You can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.” And he concluded in his typically optimistic vein: “I believe we can seize the future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America.”